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A Scandinavian local explains how to make it through winter

Hygge, a culture of coziness that has taken over the self-care space, is Scandinavia’s specialty.

A small, cozy house in a wintery landscape
In Norway, getting through the long, dark winter is a lifestyle.
Sarah Lawrence for Vox

Winter will suck. We gathered some of Vox’s coziest minds to help you make it suck less.

Ida Skibenes, a 32-year-old born and raised in Norway, resides in Bergen, where by December, there is an average of six hours of daylight per day. Shorter days mean more time spent inside, sheltering from the cold. But as a result, Scandinavians are familiar with the business of creating bearable winters for themselves, bringing small joys to where despair might typically occur.

Seasonal depression affects around 10 million Americans, and winter may be even more difficult to manage for many as the pandemic continues on, and forces us to spend more time at home. We could use some Norwegian advice — “hygge,” a culture of coziness that has taken over the self-care space, is Scandinavia’s specialty. They’ve mastered and perfected the art of making winter less miserable. Skibenes spoke to Vox about how she survives winter, and her methods to combat feelings of isolation that come with the colder months of the year.

Tell me a little bit about your relationship with cold winters over the course of your life. Do you like winter? Do you not like winter?

I think growing up here you get used to it. You kind of don’t have a choice. Of course, some people will travel south, especially the older generation who will leave for Spain or Italy for a month or two when it gets really cold and really dark. But most of us just deal with it. We are used to having many months in a row where we don’t really see that much sun or daylight.

When it’s at its darkest, I think most people will struggle a little, maybe feel a little more tired. Especially if you work in an office and you don’t have the chance to step outside and get some sunlight on your face. It can be pretty hard because it’s dark when you leave in the morning and then it’s dark when you get home.

I struggle with how early it gets dark even in New York. Do you have any tips to combat that difficulty?

In some ways, [I’ve experienced it.] Especially with feeling more tired than in the summer months. That might be the hardest part. But I’m a full winter girl, so I kind of appreciate the dark. I think it’s cozier to get up in the morning when it’s dark outside.

I think that the most important thing you can do is keep your sleeping rhythm the same. Try to, if you have the chance during your day, get out and get some sun. If it’s only for like ten minutes, I think it can make a huge difference. We also have really bad weather, especially in November and December. It can be very tempting to just stay inside and just hunker down and wait for it to pass, but I think it’s really important to get that fresh air and just move around a little.

In Norway, we are very much professionals when it comes to making things cozy. Lighting candles and being under a blanket on a couch and playing games, so that’s in our blood I think.

Aerial shot of snow on rooftops in Bergen, Norway.
A winter scene in Bergen, Norway, where Skibenes resides.
Corbis via Getty Images

I actually wanted to ask you about that. I’ve read that the Scandinavian culture of coziness is called hygge. Can you tell me more about that?

I think Norway may be most explicit about it. We go all in. I think maybe it’s the way that we’ve kind of learned to survive through hard winters for a long time. We find a lot of comfort in just doing the really small things to make your home a bit more cozy and just lighten the mood. And a lot of us have grown up staying in family cabins — that’s a thing, where we would go to a cabin up in the mountains or by the sea or somewhere else.

That’s a peak level of coziness when you get to the cabin and you light the candles and play games and eat a lot of food. How it got that way, I’m not sure, but it’s just become this thing that most of us do, just a way of surviving those long months.

So it’s kind of like this culture of togetherness and warmth; it’s kind of like a purposeful escape from the dreariness of winter.

I think it’s interesting because we as a people here in Norway, we’re generally quite cold. We like to keep our distance from people. On the news now with Covid-19, they [say] “What did Norway do right? What did they do that we didn’t do?” And I think that often they miss the point of us being people that really, generally don’t like being around people that much.

We kind of just stay with the people we know and the people we love, and we don’t socialize that much with people we don’t know. Especially now during the winter months, we don’t really go that much outside anyways, so I think it’s easier for us to socially distance than other people. I think that’s a part of the coziness culture as well, that we have this kind of small group. Maybe it’s just a partner or maybe it’s a couple of friends or maybe it’s just a couple of family members that you’re really close with, and that’s your flock.

What about the way that Norwegian people prep for the cold in the way they get dressed? Is there anything clothing-wise that you would recommend to Americans who want to make their winter less miserable or cozier?

We use a lot of wool. From top to bottom. Immediately, as soon as we hit the end of September, start of October, that’s when we get our wool game on. If you’re going to survive winter either in Norway or anywhere else where it’s cold, that’s the thing to do.

It’s important for us to stay warm throughout the day, because if you get cold then you’ll be cold for the rest of the day and you’ll be miserable. Especially socks and hats. If you’re warm on your feet and warm on your head, then you’re basically covered. Layering and always wool. The first layer is always wool.

When it gets really cold like December and January, I always have a million layers on. But I always feel like I look so bulky. I imagine that in Norway, people find a way to look more chic about it.

Some of us try — especially the younger generation. I don’t know how they do it, but they look flawless. But for most of us, especially from 30 years and up, we only like being comfortable, and warm is more important than looking good.

And is there any way that Norwegians approach winter skin care or beauty or self-care habits that you would recommend to Americans?

Moisturize. I’m terrible at skincare in general, but moisturizing is number one. L’Occitane has this really awesome face cream that I would recommend to anyone who has to live through the cold months because it really helps keep your face moisturized throughout the day.

Is anything else, winter tip wise, that you want to add that our readers should know about how you get through the winter, whether it’s physically or emotionally, and how a Scandinavian view informs it?

People will react to dark and colder months in different ways, and I think just embracing whatever you’re feeling [is important.] Telling yourself that it’s okay if you’re more tired, it’s okay if you don’t want to go outside, and it’s okay if you feel less energized and don’t want to socialize much, or anything that you’re feeling. Just embrace what you’re going through, because it is hard when it’s so dark all the time, and maybe your sleeping rhythm is a bit off and your eating rhythm is a bit off. Be a bit more aware of self-care.

Of course, right now it’s hard to not isolate. So keep in touch with your friends, and if you have a partner, talk to your partner about how you’re doing. Just embrace the time that you’re in.

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